She's a 69-year-old model, a dietician, a nutritionist, has been on a cereal box and featured in a Beyoncé video – but most famously, Maye Musk is the mother of genius entrepreneur Elon, and his equally talented and successful brother Kimbal and sister Tosca.
In an exclusive interview with The Economist's 1843 magazine, Musk opened up about the freewheeling parenting style that allowed all her children to become innovative, successful entrepreneurs.
I wouldn't allow them to be brats; I couldn't afford that –Maye Musk
Elon is arguably the world's most famous inventor right now, Kimbal is a well-known tech and food entrepreneur, and Tosca is a film director who recently started a streaming service that connects romance novels to television. Maye says her children were almost always well-behaved, because she "wouldn't allow them to be brats" – as she "couldn't afford that", after her marriage ended and she had to combine a career with single motherhood.
Born and raised in South Africa, Maye was a "science nerd" whose more athletic twin, Kaye, kept her safe from school bullies. Family holidays spent in a light aircraft, searching the Kalahari for a legendary "lost city" her dad was sure was out there, awakened her adventurous nature.
She was a professional model by the age of 15, and studied dietetics after high school in the expectation that her modelling career had a shelf-life – something she has proven herself wrong about over the past five decades. Elon arrived nine months after she married engineer Errol Musk in 1970, with Kimbal and Tosca following in quick succession.
When her nine-year marriage ended, Maye supported their single-parent family with her practice as a dietician and a return to modelling. She also began giving wellness talks, but the family still had to count every cent, with movies and eating out off the agenda. Haircuts, manicures and pedicures were handled by mum at home.
"I was a perfect mother."
Maye was hands-off with her children and tells 1843 she "didn't interfere" in their lives – "I was a perfect mother," she told the magazine, deadpan, to son Kimbal's amusement. Asked if she never worried about whether they would find their way in life, she said: "No – I didn't have time to."
"It really helped us to get a sense of independence, as well as understand work ethic," Tosca said.
Elon, who chose to live with his father during some of his teenage years, says he has since regretted that decision.
"She wasn't, like, watching me. I was off making explosives and reading books and building rockets and doing things that could have gotten me killed," he told Rolling Stone last year.
According to CNBC, Kimbal said he and his siblings "felt very independent as children". From a young age, all three siblings valued independence and learnt the importance of creating their own opportunities from their busy mother, who "didn't have time" for helicopter parenting.
"They grow up knowing you work hard, and the harder you work, the better you do and the luckier you get," Maye told Vanity Fair in 2015. "They also had to be responsible for themselves, because they had to help me."
When Elon moved to Canada and then the U.S. at the age of 17, it didn't take much to convince the rest of the clan to relocate too; originally to Toronto, but later to New York, and eventually, the West Coast. In a new land, Maye resurrected her modelling career and her dietician practice from scratch, building an entirely new client base, and adding studies towards a PhD to her schedule.
When the children eventually moved out, Maye told 1843, she relished her independence – eating food the children didn't like and walking naked around the apartment.
It doesn't look like she plans to retire, either. While some might think of her as a model-turned-businesswoman, this extraordinary businesswoman-who-still-models – on the threshold of 70 – is an inspiration not only to her three thriving children, but to would-be entrepreneurs the world over.